Wells Fargo was fined $185 million because of employees opening up millions of fake accounts to meet their numbers. Citigroup lost a $158 million lawsuit by the Department of Justice due to fraudulent loan practices. GlaxoSmithKline needed to pay $3 billion for misleading safety information on their drugs.

All of these sound like massive sums – until you put them in context.

In the Infinite Game, Simon Sinek reports that Wells Fargo’s fine was less than one percent of their total profit of $22 billion the year they were fined and only 0.2 percent of their total revenues of nearly $95 billion. It’s the equivalent of someone who makes $75,000 in annual salary being fined $150.*

Citigroup’s judgment was 1.4 percent of their net income of $11.2 billion, and consider GSK’s $3 billion fine against the $25 billion in sales for those prescriptions.

I thought of this when our local grocery chain hung a big banner proclaiming that they were donating “1 million dollars and hours” to support racial equality and unity. I wondered if it was a significant step in response to the negative PR the chain received for boarding up all of their stores after George Floyd’s death – even though the closest violent protest was over an hour away. But $1 million seems modest in comparison to last year’s $10.6 billion in revenue.

Put the numbers you see in perspective – especially big numbers that are hard to grasp. Millions and billions aren’t always that significant in the overall.

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